Legacy of the District Six Stone Meetings
The spectre of Francis Zaccheus Santiago (FZS) Peregrino, a “fascinating”, “colorful”, “mastermind” of Pan African and black journalism, haunts the landscape of District Six and Cape Town.
Mohammed Adhikari (Adhikari, Switzer., 1979) described Peregrino as “one of the more colorful characters of Cape Town at the time”. He was the founder & editor of Cape Town’s first black newspaper, the South- African Spectator. An article published on the South African History Online website, under the heading, “Francis ZS Peregrino and the political programme of black pride” said Peregrino wanted to instill in black people a sense of pride in being black, and he used the South African Spectator as a platform from which he promoted black interests (South African History Online, SAHO).
Peregrino tried to forge unity amongst people of colour. According to the SAHO article, Peregrino’s concept of black included both Africans and Coloureds and although he concentrated much of his efforts on the Coloured people of the Cape, he condemned those who would have no association with Africans (source SAHO). According to the SAHO text, Peregrino’s ideas played a formative role in fomenting a black consciousness amongst a number of Coloured people and their organisations.
Peregrino also founded the South African Native Press Association with Sol Plaatjie who described him as a “master mind” according to an article published on the Nigeria Village Square website.
Peregrino was born in Accra, Ghana in 1851. After completing elementary school, he moved to England to study and here according to Tim Couzens (1984), he “worked in some kind of steel foundry works”. In his late thirties, Peregrino emigrated to the United States where in Albany New York he published a newspaper, The Spectator (Adhikari, Switzer., 1979).
Adhikari (1979) wrote, “After attending the first Pan African Congress in London in July 1900 he decided to come to Cape Town to spread the gospel of Pan Africanism to Southern Africa.” (p.127). Peregrino started the South African Spectator within weeks after arriving in Cape Town.
Peregrino settled in District Six with his family and here in his new home he made a lasting impression. In addition to the newspaper, Peregrino founded numerous organisations serving the District Six community. He formed the “Coloured Men’s Protectorate and Political Association” and the “Coloured People’s Vigilance Association” that agitated for the extension of the Cape non-racial franchise to all blacks in both the British colonies and the Boer Republics (SAHO).
A little known fact is that Peregrino helped to establish an informal, open air debating and discussion forum in District Six, called the “Stone Meetings”. The meetings were intended as a form of political education for residents. These meetings were held every Sunday in the vicinity of a large boulder on the lower slopes of Table Mountain, above District Six and continued for more than 20 years (Adhikari, Switzer., 1979).
Realising Peregrino’s story was intricately woven into the story of District Six; we went exploring the world of District Six, to find more clues about the life and work of this enigmatic pioneer of South African Journalism. Mandy Sanger, the Head of Education with the District Six Museum said although the Museum does not believe the “great men” of history are the big picture, stories like Peregrino’s become the mega pixels that make up the big picture. Sanger said, “People like Peregrino contested power of those who stole South Africa through Colonialism and Apartheid. They were acting in the interest of those who were displaced and marginalised, and were turned into modern day slaves.”
Referring to a dispute between the District Six Museum and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) over construction of a student residence on the historic Hanover Street memory site, Sanger said Peregrino’s story begs the question of how we should remember District Six and all its people.
Sanger said the District Six Museum has been in the process of creating memory spaces or sites where ordinary South Africans could “perform their own memories” and connect with the memory of District Six in tangible ways. Hanover Street, where the construction is taking place is one of the five places on the memory journey people would embark on.
Sanger said certain places are very important as holders of memory. “Hanover Street is the site of powerful stories of how people lived in harmony; a very powerful mythology; a story of hope, hope for poor people in the city. The very fabric of old Hanover Street needs to be preserved as a space for these ritual acts where ordinary people come to perform memory. So people returning to Hanover Street is not just important as an act of nostalgia, it is also about healing, reconnecting and re-afirming people’s identities. Apartheid made black people invisible. When people come to the site and engage in ritual storytelling it affirms their own importance and their importance in the eyes of their children, who feel they have no place in City. So that site is important to the ritual of reconstructing the past.”
Sanger said families or school groups would be able encounter the stories of people like Peregrino, Alex La Guma, Richard Rive and other Icons of District Six, while encountering all the stories of what District Six was, all the while performing their own memory and connecting to their own stories.
“People would be able to come to a memory space and would be able stop at different points to remember that place. They would encounter luminaries like Peregrino throughout the site. So Peregrino’s story of the Stone Meetings would get us to unpack the memory of that site. We also make him visible as an important person in history. So people like Peregrino could continue to live on in a participative way.”
Peregrino died in 1919. In trying to tell his story, more questions than conclusions emerge. Who was FZS Peregrino? Where in District Six did he live? Where exactly were the Stone Meetings held? How do we remember the pioneers of yesteryear and newspapers like the “South African Spectator”? And if we are to return to places like District Six, Cato Manor and Sophiatown will we still find any trace of their existence?
Adhikari M., Switzer L. (1979). South Africa's Alternative Press: Voices of Protest and Resistance, 1880s-1960s. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. p127- 128.
Couzens T. (1984). History of the Black Press in South Africa. Unpublished text.
Nigeria Village Square. Retrieved from: http://nigeriavillagesquare.com/forum/main-square/76538-fzs-peregrino-ghanaian-pioneer-black-american-s-african-printing-pan-africanism.html
South African History Online. Retrieved from: http://v1.sahistory.org.za/pages/hands-on-classroom/classroom/pages/projects/grade12/lesson1/coloured-organisations.htm